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Online Defamation vs. Suppression of Legitimate Free Speech: What they have in common is the attempt to make reality go away

November 9, 2010

However…”Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” — Philip K. Dick

See last 5 paragraphs added at 11AM as an update in response to a posting on that other WordPress blog entitled “clever is as clever does” that omitted certain key facts about the cases in question. For me, this is not about who can be the most “clever”. This matter is about vital human rights issues.

Some people would say that internet defamation and suppression of legitimate free speech are opposite extremes. I would have to question that. They are more like two sides to the same coin, and that coin is how people deny or attack evidence, the facts of reality. Internet defamers try to deal with a reality they do not like try to make that reality go away by attempting to create a new reality and they do this by posting deliberate lies about people. On the other hand, suppressors of legitimate free speech try to make the facts of a reality they do not like go away by engaging in legal threats and in some cases actually filing libel and defamation lawsuits that have no basis. In other words, the statements being made were not factually false statements, but since anyone can sue anyone else at any time for anything, the person is using the legal system as a way to silence the person because in a libel/defamation lawsuit, even if the person being sued wins, he loses, due to the huge expense involved for both parties. This is called a SLAPP lawsuit, a libel/slander/defamation lawsuit that has no basis, designed to stop a person from exercising legitimate rights to free speech.

Having been the target of both of these seeming opposites, internet defamation and legal threats, I am in a somewhat unusual position of having experienced both. On one side, we have the EFF and its free speech lawyers and on the other side, we have lawyers such as John Dozier and Domingo Rivera who specialize in internet defamation. In my opinion, both can provide valuable and much needed services in cases where people are actually exercising legitimate rights to free speech on one hand and cases where people are being libeled and defamed, on the other hand. Thus, I have great respect for the people on both sides even if I may not always agree with them about each and every case.

People who are the victims of online defamation understandably would like to see laws that make it easier for people who have genuinely been libeled and defamed to sue the perpetrator. On the other hand, people who are being harassed with threats of lawsuits for having done nothing more than telling an inconvenient truth about another person, understandably would like to see stronger anti-SLAPP legislation. Without it, what we have is a world where free speech is a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Otherwise, anyone that doesn’t like what anyone else has to say can take them into court and ruin their lives, even if they lose the case and the case has no legitimate basis whatsoever. Since most people do not want to be devastated financially and have their lives destroyed, they opt to remain silent on issues where a legal abusing bully predominates. The legal remedy for this is anti-SLAPP legislation, but that too can be abused if it makes it difficult for victims of genuine internet defamation to sue. Both sides have legitimate issues. What is to be done about this dilemma?

In a larger philosophical sense, both of these seemingly opposite issues have something in common. They pertain to how some people deal with facts of reality, facts that are backed up by evidence that they do not like.

I’m going to now define a few philosophical terms that I think are relevant by discussing two branches of philosophy: ontology and epistemology. Ontology  is that branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence and examines questions such as: Is there an objective reality that exists independent of human perception? Does truth exist? Does existence really exist? An example of a ontological position is the famous saying that reality is that which does not go away when you stop believing in it. Another example of an ontological position is the postmodernist view that there is no reality other than what is socially constructed, which is similar to the popular new age view that we create our own reality.

If reality does go away when we stop believing in it, the scientific method would be rather useless. The next branch of philosophy, epistemology, deals with questionings pertaining to knowledge and how we know what we know or if we can know anything at all. Obviously, a person’s epistemological position is influenced by their ontological views. If someone does not believe in an objective reality that exists, independently of human perception and believes that we create our own reality, such a person would not have any use for science.

In the mental health profession, a major conflict exists between people in those two camps and this is particularly the case with the social work profession. On the one hand, postmodernist social workers view science as a tool, socially constructed by the dominant class (rich white men) to oppress the masses. On the other hand, social workers who are advocates for science and evidence-based practice see science as a tool for discovering evidence, what exists, that which does not go away when you stop believing in it. Science is for anyone who chooses to use the scientific method, not just rich white men because the discovery of reality is what will ultimately help people, regardless of their social position. This doesn’t mean that nothing is human-made — of course there are aspects of life such as our political system, that we do socially construct, but the difference is that proponents of the scientific method take the position that there is a reality that exists that does not go away when we stop believing in it and the best systems are the ones that recognize this, identify what can be changed and do so through evidence-based practices rather than whims and wishes.

Now, back to the topic of this posting. These two supposed “extremes” have something very important in common. They both have to do with how people try to deny and change evidence-based facts that they do not like. One way is to engage in legal threats and in some cases actually sue them away and unfortunately our legal system has loopholes that allow people to do this through SLAPP lawsuits. The other way is to engage in libel/slander/defamation — post deliberate falsehoods or take facts and present them in a false light about a person in order to rob them of their reputation, make it difficult for them to obtain employment, destroy their business, destroy their personal life, destroy their career or whatever applies to any particular individual case.

Both of these apparent extremes are doing the same thing. They are dealing with facts of reality they do not like with lies. The SLAPP lawsuit is essentially a lie that the person who is telling the evidence-based truth and/or exercising their right to express an opinion is libeling and defaming them when they have done nothing that fits that legal defamation. The other extreme is people who actually are engaging in internet defamation who are posting lies about another person, statements that are factually false that are designed to harm a person’s reputation. People who use both of these tactics are attempting to make the facts of reality go away through lies.

When someone is libeled and defamed online a completely false image of that person is created and if people believe it, a false, socially constructed image is created and the real person is destroyed — or at least that is what people holding a postmodernist philosophy would believe. However, if reality is that which does not go away when we stop believing in it, the truth will stand, no matter what and cannot be destroyed. Sooner or later, the truth, which has been there all along, comes out and that is the ultimate consequence for those who choose to attempt to deny or destroy the truth with lies or SLAPP lawsuits (which are also forms of lies). Ultimately, people are free to do what they wish, but they are not free to escape from the consequences imposed upon them, if not by other human beings, by the facts of reality.

My whole intention in my work is to do everything possible to learn the evidence, the facts of reality, the truth about any particular matter. I believe that my track record speaks for itself. If I find out I have made an error, I openly admit it and correct that error, as I did when I conducted and published my experiment on Thought Field Therapy.  Since that time, I have learned why it is so important to conduct proper scientific tests to determine evidence, rather than rely on anecdotal evidence or even personal clinical experience. Scientific testing has ways to control for the capacity that even the most honest human being has, for self-deception. If someone is attempting to make claims about a mental health practice that does not have such evidence, that is cause for concern, particularly if that practice involves elements that have been shown through scientific testing to be harmful (for example, certain forms of prone restraint).

In the interest of honoring the facts of reality and being truthful, I have repeatedly made the offer to Ronald Federici, that if he believes I am in error about anything I have written in my critique of his methods, that he specifically identify any error he thinks I have made, accompanied by evidence. If he does so, I will be more than willing to issue a retraction and correction of whatever that may be. However, to date, to the best of my knowledge — after having done my own due diligence, searching the research literature and consulting with legitimate experts and reading other publications such as white papers that present evidence — I have been accurate in my criticisms and I stand by them. So far, all I have received thus far are threats of lawsuits. Demands that I remove all mention of a particular person’s name are not acceptable as they interfere with my rights to legitimate free speech. Those rights end, only if the statements being made are intentionally false and to the best of my knowledge, any of my factual statements have been correct and based on evidence. My invitation, however, remains open.

Update: Less than half an hour after this posting appeared, a highly misleading posting appeared on that other WordPress blog, providing us with a demonstration of precisely what I have written about – the use of legal threats and intimidation (and for some of these parties, actual lawsuits) which, as I see it, are attempts to stop a person’s exercising their legitimate right to free speech.

Note that what the blogs by Federici supporters fail to note is that the appeal he filed is due to the fact he lost the three cases he filed in small claims against ACT, Jean Mercer and Charly Miller. As for jurisdiction, it isn’t that they “didn’t bother”. The judge went ahead with the proceedings and there was no opportunity to do so until the very end when the judge declared that it did not matter because Jean Mercer and the others won their case. Because the matter was in small claims court, none of the parties had the benefit of a lawyer, who could have argued jurisdiction for it and if the appeal goes forward, lawyers will have the opportunity to do so at that time because the appeal is also considered basically hitting the reset button, according to info I have from a lawyer.

Psychology Today only lost because they failed to show up in court and they did not cancel Mercer’s contract and her blog remains up. She continued on the other blog rather than making any additional postings to PT, by her own choice because on the other blog she is freer to mention certain names that are no longer possible for her to do on PT, because they lost, not on the substance of the case, but simply because they failed to show up. What the anonymous bloggers fail to mention is that Jean Mercer showed up, faced Ronald Federici and won her case. Jean Mercer was being sued for, among other things, her PT blog. Had Federici had a good case against Mercer in small claims, he would have won, but he lost. However, PT failed to show up in court and failure to show up results in an automatic default judgment for the plaintiff which is why Federici won against PT — because they failed to appear.

As for the so-called de novo lawsuit allegedly filed against me, it has been more than one month since these so-called documents have been posted and to date, no one has even attempted to serve me with any papers (the statements that I ran from service of such papers are bald faced lies).

Additionally, as far as the appeal is concerned, to the best of the defendants’ knowledge, no date has been set for any court proceeding. So far, the only evidence of such proceedings is an anonymous WordPress blog. There’s the difference. When I have something to say, I put my name to it. When many of these supporters of Federici have something to say, they do so anonymously.

The other side of this coin, however, is that suing people for libel/defamation is also tremendously expensive and based on what I’ve read, according to legal experts it costs about an additional $100,000 for each defendant, particularly if Federici really intends to do the in-depth sort of discovery and depositions he is threatening in which case his costs could go much higher than that. Hiring an attorney to put people through days upon days of depositions is tremendously expensive. Either Federici is  a very wealthy man, has access to a wealthy benefactor or he is bluffing. Time will tell but there is one thing that I remain certain of. The right to free speech is a right that many of our forefathers have been willing to literally give their lives for and if they were willing to do that, the least I can do is be willing to be sued, rather than give up this right, if it ever comes to that. Given that I have very, very little money to give anyone (I basically currently make a subsistence level income that barely meets my basic living expenses and I do not own a home or even a car), even if the worst case scenario were to occur, an egregious legal injustice and I lost, the best they could hope for from me is very tiny payments over time and given my age and income level, it would be impossible for me to pay off a $300,000 judgment during my lifetime. Were I to be sued, after meeting legal expenses, I would be completely destitute and in great debt and have no ability whatsoever to pay anything. What would be the result would probably be involuntary bankruptcy, as has happened in other cases.

In the eyes of the superficial people, who mean nothing to me, living out such a life, having nothing more than the essentials to get by, would equal abject failure. That is obviously not how I see it. Standing by ones principles at any cost, to me would be a major indicator of success and the people who matter to me would see it that way as well. I would be able to live my last moments on earth, whenever that occurs for me, with the peace of mind, knowing I did the right thing, knowing that I spoke up and said “this is wrong.” while others stood by and allowed abuse to continue so they could hold onto their position in life. Can people who sold out their principles and remained silent about what they knew to be wrong, for the sake of status, for the sake of holding onto money and property, feel the same, when they are in a critical moment when their rationalizations and mental gymnastics they did to justify their actions no longer work and they see that they sold out?

This worst case scenario is obviously not something that I would choose for myself if there were any alternatives where I could continue to remain free to speak my conscience and still have more than the bare essentials in life, but if necessary, I am willing to experience this, rather than experience the suppression of my legitimate constitutional  right to free speech. If that’s what it takes, to retain my rights to legitimate free speech, then that’s what it takes.

That being said, however, that is only a highly unlikely worst case scenario and as willing as I am to experience that, rather than give up my rights to free speech, I do not see how he has any winnable case against me. Somehow I cannot bring myself to believe that the average juror would be impressed by the “cruel thrusts” (words used by my cyber smearers) that have been leveled against people who had no intentions other than to tell the truth. And looking at the larger picture, once again, what does this say about a legal system that allows people to abuse the legal system to make “cruel thrusts” against anyone who speaks their conscience? It would seem to me that legal reform is necessary in some states in the US, as well as in the UK to prevent this from happening to people who did not deserve it.

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